New Delhi: By getting the Manpreet Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) in its fold, the Congress has strengthened its position ahead of the Punjab assembly election in 2017. However, what could have been an easy battle for the party against the Shiromani Akali Dal has turned out to be rather complex with the emergence of AAP in the state.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party is working its charm among the masses with the usual blunt talk on corruption and poor governance, and indications are that it is gradually replacing the Congress as the principal challenger to the ruling establishment, which also includes the BJP.
Kejriwal kick-started his Punjab campaign at Maghi Mela rally on 14 January by attacking both the SAD-BJP combine and the Congress, and asked people to vote for AAP to end corruption, drug abuse, farmer suicides and put the state back on ‘right track’.
“If voted to power in 2017, AAP government will give Rs 1 crore compensation to the family of jawans who lost their lives in Pathankot attack,” Kejriwal had said. He was welcomed with an enthusiastic response in terms of crowd participation.
What do the Congress top guns make of AAP?
“AAP is no challenge to the Congress. Gathering crowd from other states in a public meeting is different from winning an election. It’s a party of disruptionists,” Punjab Pradesh Congress chief, Capt Amarinder Singh told Firstpost.
Many in the party from the state won’t take AAP as lightly though. They feel its presence has queered the pitch somewhat and even if it does not win the elections, it might end up impacting the chances of the Congress by eating into anti-incumbency votes.
PPP chief Manpreet Badal said, “PPP is the original AAP as we were the first party that decided to shun the VIP culture and be a harbinger of change by introducing an alternative politics. AAP is no challenge for the Congress because it has no blueprint to offer to the people of Punjab on various problems the state has been grappling with. The Congress has a clear road map on how to tackle with the drug menace, unemployment, corruption, mis-governance and bring growth.”
“There’s nothing new about Kejriwal’s announcement. In my previous tenure as CM, I had given Rs 2 crore to martyrs’ families and Param Vir Chakra awardees, and also to Olympian shooter Abhinav Bindra. I’ve taken an oath to end drug menace in Punjab in four weeks, if we came to power. Kejriwal’s stunts won’t work,” remarked Amarinder Singh.
Shakeel Ahmad, Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab, added, “In the recent rally of AAP, the party got people from Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan to show strength. It is already facing severe internal dissension in the state. Two of its MPs have gone against AAP. First, it has to keep its house in order before challenging anyone.”
Replying to a query from Firstpost on why the PPP merged with the Congress, Manpreet, former finance minister in the Parkash Singh Badal’s cabinet who resigned in 2010 following differences with his chief minister uncle and cousin deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, said: “Our Punjab agenda matched with that of the Congress and we decided to merge.”
“It’s an unconditional merger with the Congress. There was no precondition. My meeting with party vice president Rahul Gandhi was excellent. Our Punjab agenda matched with that of the Congress and we decided to merge. We won’t accept any position unless we win the hearts of the people of Punjab,” Badal said. “Manpreet Badal has a pan-Punjab presence, with grip on district and panchayat levels,” remarked former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh.
Ahmad said, “In the last assembly election, the Congress lost by a difference of 0.1 percent and Manpreet Badal got 6% votes. Had we been together, we would have won the election. Now we’re working on that arithmetic. The AAP is not a challenge for us, despite three Congress leaders having joined it. They have vacancies in the party, so disgruntled people or those who won’t get ticket this time will join AAP. It won’t make any difference to us. In fact, PPP’s merger will strengthen Congress in Punjab.”
“We’re no big player in Punjab, but despite that the Congress party treated us with dignity and kindness. Rahul Gandhi wants to infuse energy among youth and our association will go a long way. He accepted our 11-point Memorandum of understanding that speaks about improving state’s revenue, to restore Punjab its rightful place, get rid of drug menace, crime and corruption, improve the condition of farmers and agriculture in the state, etc,” added Badal, who has the credit to be the youngest MLA and FM in Punjab.
Dr Ravinder Dhaliwal, district president Moga of PPP said, “We’re determined to take both SAD and AAP head on in the 2017 election. This merger will be beneficial to both Congress and PPP, as we’ll now work together from grass root level to the top.”